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Looking back at a flagship project: Internet of Food & Farm 2020

6 min.

The Internet of Things, often abbreviated as “IoT”, is an ever more present concept. Put simply, the IoT refers to the networks of physical devices from all around the world that are connected to the internet and can collect and share data, and often even perform automated tasks. From wearable health monitors to smart kitchen appliances or self-driving cars, what was once seen as technology straight out of a 1960s futuristic fantasy comic book has not only become mainstream but is so ingrained in our everyday lives that it’s now almost unremarkable. “Unremarkable”, however, is certainly not a term to be associated with one of the largest and most impactful European innovation projects in recent memory – The Internet of Food and Farm 2020.

The Internet of Food and Farm 2020 (IoF2020) was a €34 million Horizon 2020 project which ran from 2017 to 2021 and aimed to accelerate the adoption of IoT to secure safe and healthy food and strengthen the competitiveness of farming and food chains in Europe. This project tested and showcased agricultural IoT technologies in 33 use cases across Europe, including wide-ranging applications such as data-driven potato production in Poland, poultry chain management in Spain, wine integrity tracking in Bulgaria and pig health monitoring in Sweden. With over 140 partner organisations spread across 22 European countries, its vast scope drove forward the European agricultural innovation landscape in a major way, granting it the prestigious status of flagship project in the fields of precision agriculture, IoT and food supply chain management.

Broken down into five agri-food areas: arable, dairy, vegetables, fruit, and meat, the IoF2020 use cases aimed to use IoT technologies to address specific issues along various food chains, all the way from the farm to the consumer. We include below a brief snapshot of some of the interoperability breakthroughs and efficiency gains achieved through the use cases.

Happy Cow

This use case aimed to encourage technology uptake in dairy farming by combining advanced big data analysis with machine learning technologies. This allowed farmers to better understand their animals, detect issues at an early stage and get suggestions on potential solutions, thus increasing the farm’s productivity.

It developed a system named “Ida”, which used neck-mounted devices to help cattle farmers identify issues on dairy farms whilst also providing recommendations as to how to tackle them. By connecting Ida to the entire value chain this solution supported end-users in transitioning to a more sustainable way of farming. Through Artificial Intelligence, raw sensor data is turned into actionable insights for the benefit of people, companies, and the natural habitats in which they operate.

During testing, and thanks to a particularly warm summer in 2019, many cows were at risk of suffering from heat stress which can negatively affect food intake resulting in poor rumination, milk yield and fertility. The Ida system allowed the researchers to develop a “cow ranking” feature which helped with the early detection of heat stress by correlating herd parameters with each individual cow’s milk yield, eating and rumination behaviour. In trial phase, Ida resulted in over 50% reduction in the use of antibiotics, but, perhaps most importantly, it aided in reducing the stress level of animals and farmers alike.

Automated Olive Chain

In recent years, the European olive sector has been under pressure due to increased competition from other parts of the world and the rapid decline in olive plantations caused by the bacterium xylella fastidiosa. This use case explored how IoT technologies can help alleviate this pressure and boost resource use efficiency.

The Automated Olive Chain case was primarily tested in places experiencing sparse or seasonal rainfall and are therefore unable to sustain agriculture in the absence of irrigation. By installing complete software solutions – which involved interlinked weather stations, soil moisture and temperature sensors, soil electrical conductivity sensors, irrigation pumps and controllers, and water pressure sensors – olive farmers were able to better grow their crops on a consistent schedule thus creating more reliable supply chains. Thanks to the smart, interconnected technologies in this use case farmers reduced their production costs per kilo by almost 78% and diminished their fertiliser usage by 33%.

IoF2020 had very strong synergies with another ongoing Horizon 2020 project – SmartAgriHubs. Like IoF2020, SmartAgriHubs is a huge project, with over 164 partner organisations spread across every EU member state, but diverges slightly in its focus on fostering digital innovation hubs for smart agriculture. Some of the great work undertaken by IoF2020, including the network of digital agricultural stakeholders who can share and build upon their gained knowledge, will be sustained and further developed through the SmartAgriHubs Innovation Portal.

Many of the IoF2020 use cases have strong overlaps with some of the e-shape pilots. The parallels between e-shape’s Pilot 1.5 – Linking EO and Farm IoT for Automated Decision Support – and many of the IoF2020 use cases, including Precision Crop Management, Big Wine Optimisation and the likes, are abundantly clear. One of the aims of Pilot 1.4 – Agro Industry – is to develop improved field level analysis of meteorological variables and soil condition variables, similar to IoF2020’s Solar Powered Field Sensors and Data-Driven Potato Production. Moreover, in the context of smart regulation monitoring and enforcement, Pilot 1.2 – EU CAP Support – and the IoF2020 use case Enhanced Quality Certification System both strive to make the lives of regulatory bodies easier through remote agricultural compliance checks. Additionally, the use cases available on the IoF2020 website provide a wealth of valuable information: from narratives surrounding unusual circumstances experienced during development (such as the particularly warm weather that helped inform the Happy Cow case study), to key achievements and how they were realised. Consequently, the e-shape pilots could most certainly benefit from browsing the Use Case Catalogue. By familiarising themselves with some of the IoF2020 use cases, the e-shape pilots could learn to avoid some of the identified pitfalls as well as adopt best practices within the agri-food innovation sector. This would allow the e-shape pilots to succeed in driving forward how EO is utilised in our food supply chains.

The complete results of the IoF2020 project, including detailed breakdowns of the innovative achievements of its use case, are documented in the IoF2020 IoT Catalogue. Here, users can see the idiosyncratic challenges of each use case, the achievements realised, and, moreover, interested parties can browse the resulting technological products in true “catalogue” style, understand their value propositions, and get in contact with developers if interested in adopting such a solution themselves.

In conjunction with the continued exploitation of IoF2020’s accomplishments through SmartAgriHubs, the legacy of IoF2020 is one of huge technological achievement across a vast array of European food value chains. The open catalogue of products and services will serve as a true “go-to” source of impactful IoT and precision agriculture technologies while the sheer size, scope, and success of the project itself has ensured its revered place in the European innovation ecosystem for years to come.


Banner image © Project Internet of Food & Farm 2020 (IoF2020)

related e-shape Pilots: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.7